MSF and Ethnocentrism

In my reading of In the Eyes of Others, it brings to light the fact that ethnocentrism is a key factor throughout humanitarian aid and specifically in the organization Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF. Ethnocentrism can be defined as the judging of another culture solely by the values and standards of one’s own culture ( MSF is the main focal point of In the Eyes of Others, which points out the problem MSF is dealing with its perceived image to other humanitarian organizations, the people MSF interacts with, and people that do not directly interact with MSF. To do this, they prepare questionnaires, discussion groups, and conduct interviews to determine the way they are perceived by others. The point of this project is to get an understanding of “the extent to which MSF’s supposed “difference” from other humanitarian organizations is real and identified” (Abu-Sada 12).

MSF appears to be a standalone organization that does not, and will not, rely on the other organizations, governments, or “actors” to help in fulfilling their duties. This, in turn, appears to alienate their image with other humanitarian aid organizations and governments. This perception could be due to the fact MSF appears to consider their organization as being better than that of any of the other organizations because they are unwilling to work together with them. This can create many hurdles for MSF to overcome when delivering aid and hinder their ability to provide aid as needed.

While their perception to other humanitarian aid organizations might be perceived negatively, surprisingly, the people receiving aid did not have the same view. They were happy to be receiving the aid and the felt that MSF was being helpful. However, they did report they believed it was sometimes challenging to receive aid from MSF. This hindrance is a direct result of MSF’s unwillingness to work with other organizations in order to help them provide the aid needed. The people receiving aid also reported confusion on who exactly they were receiving aid from.

MSF’s ethnocentrism doesn’t seem to have an effect on the perception of the quality or gratitude people that they provide aid for but it does tend to lead to confusion on exactly who is providing aid. This confusion, because they are distancing themselves from other humanitarian aid organizations, can lead to incorrect identification not only from the people receiving aid, which have should have a better understanding on who is providing the aid, but from people on the outside as well. This confusion can lead to the incorrect identification of MSF workers as having ties to other organizations in the area. The inability of outsiders not being able to identify MSF workers with their humanitarian duties leads to dangerous working conditions. The independence they strive for could actually leave them vulnerable for identification as a hostile purpose rather than that of aid.

MSF’s struggle with their perception can be attributed to their ethnocentrism regarding their organization and purpose compared to other organizations. I feel like their commitment to their core values of independence, neutrality, and impartiality to a fault can be blamed for this. While they should strive for all of these things, they have undertaken the values and applied it to all organizations and governments. This separation in completeness can be perceived negatively, while that might not be what they intended, and can create undesired results for MSF and put their workers in dangerous situations.




Works Cited:

Abu-Sada, Caroline. In the Eyes of Others. United States: MSF-USA, n.d. Print.

“Africa For Norway – New Charity Single out Now!” YouTube. YouTube, 16 Nov. 2012. Web. 12 June 2013. <>.

Cole, Teju. “The White-Savior Industrial Complex.” The Atlantic. N.p., 21 Mar. 2012. Web. 12 June 2013. <>.

N.d. Graphic. MSF.orgWeb. 13 Jun 2013. <>.

Wikipedia contributors. “Ethnocentrism.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. <>.

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One Comment

  1. Posted June 13, 2013 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

    I agree with your observation of MSF from the reading, in that they do not seem to comply with others. They seem like a very standoffish group that thinks they are better than other groups, thus keeping to themselves. This led me to believe they were an ethnocentric group but I too found it interesting that other countries receiving aid from MSF, for the most part, were happy and thought the group was very helpful. I made note of this in my post as well because I guess it doesn’t really matter what other organizations think, it’s what the countries receiving the aid think. As long as they feel they are being helped that’s the bottom line.